It’s a funny memory now, as a third-year at the University of Minnesota and the president at Minnesota Hillel. But Hillel as it is today didn’t start that way nearly three years ago, the day I stepped foot into the building the first day of my freshman year.
I left my first Hillel program already having decided I’d never come back. Leaders were cliquey, programming was mediocre, and the love and welcoming feelings I’d lived for in BBYO just weren’t there.
We’ve come a long way, to say the least. Between a total building renovation and changes in staff and leadership structure, Hillel has become a place to be a leader, have safe conversations about Israel and Judaism, and participate in a broad range of activities, from Hillel Shabbat to Disney-themed havdalah to weekly learning sessions with professionals.
Sometimes I wonder how we did it. How did an organization that assembled a crowd of no more than 10 students once monthly for Shabbat, grow to a community of vibrant and unique leaders, all sharing their experiences in a packed room of 100 on any given Friday night? And it’s not just about numbers — we’re seeing students become more and more excited about being involved, because they know their ideas will be heard. Each year, I watch students older than me make a change. And each year, I meet new students, so talented and ready to give to their community — Minnesota Hillel is so, incredibly lucky.
Last year, Minnesota Hillel hosted its first Maroon and Gold Shabbat, a revamp of the previously named Milgrom Shabbat. We expected a hundred, maybe two hundred, students and community members to attend. Whoa, were we wrong! Our venue at the TCF Stadium was chock-full of upwards of 500 Jewish students and their friends and members from the community, all in awe seeing the throng of attendees mingling (as Jews do best). And now, as my year as president comes to a close and I think back on the impact my peers and I have made — from hosting a variety of services and meals throughout the High Holidays, to cooking our first in-house Kosher Shabbat meal in years, and to finally defeating a movement to bring BDS to campus — I know my community of Jewish leaders is taking the next step to empower other Jewish people to love their culture, religion and heritage and share that love with those around them.
Maroon and Gold Shabbat is coming up again, just a couple weeks away, on April 15, from 6 – 9 p.m. at the U of M’s TCF Bank Stadium. Please join the U of M community for services led by the Minnesota Chai Notes A Capella stars, dinner catered by Kafe 421, a short awards program in which we recognize notable leaders in our community and an oneg overlooking the football field. Check out the Facebook page for more information, and click this link to register you and your family. It’s free to students.
Can’t come? We’ll miss you! You can still help us out by sponsoring a student or a table at the event. Just click the link above.
We’ve done our fair share of work this year, but we’re not done yet. Minnesota Hillel celebrates its 75th year on campus this year, and we wouldn’t be here without the help of our community, who help our student leaders and staff make it possible to participate in Jewish life at our home away from home and learn to be thoughtful and productive Jewish leaders now and in the future. Hillel has truly become, over the last three years, a safe haven for me and so many of my friends. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.